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L.A. schools chief vows to use evaluation data to help teachers

August 25, 2010 |  1:02 pm

Cortines L.A. schools chief Ramon C. Cortines talked about revamping teacher evaluations as a tool for helping teachers improve as part of his final, annual address to administrators Wednesday morning at Hollywood High School.

Overall, the 30-minute speech celebrated progress at various schools, including Hollywood High, and challenged educators to do more.

During his remarks, Cortines emphasized that the nation's second-largest school district plans to develop and adopt a “value-added” measure that uses students test scores to determine individual teachers' and schools' effectiveness. This data should be part of a multifaceted evaluation for teachers, he said.

The value-added method has become a central topic in the Los Angeles Unified School District in the wake of a Times series on the subject. The Times also plans to publish a database later this month containing the value-added rating for about 6,000 third- through fifth-grade teachers. The newspaper found that the school district had the ability to do such an analysis but, like other school systems, never did so.
 
“It is critical that we look at multiple measures to support our employees,” Cortines said, and “how value added fits into our overall strategy.”

The district plans on publishing such data about schools “once this information has been validated,” he said.  Moreover, such efforts should be developed in partnership with employee bargaining units. “Supporting all employees is about creating a culture of collaboration and trust.”

Cortines supported teachers by quoting a Polytechnic High school custodian who talked about how teachers were on campus when he arrived to work and still working when he left for the day.

Cortines -- who plans to retire in 2011 -- lost his composure near the end of his address as he thanked those assembled for the opportunity to work with them. A packed auditorium, that included parents, district officials and community leaders rose for a 45-second ovation as school board president Monica Garcia rushed to the microphone to proclaim Cortines the nation’s best superintendent.

The superintendent also defended the new Robert F. Kennedy complex of six schools built on the site of the Ambassador Hotel at a cost approaching $600 million. He then remarked on his age by noting that he first visited the old hotel when Adlai Stevenson was running for president. His second visit to the hotel, he said, was a youthful streaking episode with some friends. On a second such jaunt, at a different hotel, Cortines said, police collared him and called his father to collect him.

The confession drew extended, warm applause and some uncomfortable chuckles from the largely buttoned-up crowd of more than 1,000.

In a later interview, Cortines talked about California’s unsuccessful bid to win a federal Race to the Top school improvement grant. Cortines had been part of California’s five-member delegation to present the state’s bid. He noted that federal evaluators grilled him on whether his district could obtain union consent for a teacher-evaluation process that includes linking student data to individual teachers. He told federal officials he was confident that the union could be won over to such a plan. He also said the district would take advantage of rules for the next round of funding that would likely allow L.A. Unified to apply directly to the federal government rather than part of a state effort.

Just after his address, the diminutive, 78-year-old superintendent demonstrated that his impending departure is unrelated to physical fitness. He nimbly and swiftly lowered himself off the stage -- a 4 1/2-foot drop -- landing on his feet unharmed among a bank of plants, where well-wishers mobbed him for hugs and photos.

School board member Steve Zimmer called Cortines' expression of emotion “a remarkably pure moment from someone who did not have to take this job except for his lifelong passion for kids and their families.  We won’t get another moment like this because there’s not another person like him.”

-- Howard Blume

Photo: L.A. Unified Supt. Ramon Cortines. Credit: Los Angeles Times

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